Pickleball Frenzy Sweeps the Island

Alameda Recreation and Parks Department -- As the popularity of pickleball in Alameda grows, finding an available court to play in might become a problem
Alameda Recreation and Parks Department -- As the popularity of pickleball in Alameda grows, finding an available court to play in might become a problem

Pickleball Frenzy Sweeps the Island

Pickleball, the latest craze in racket sports, experienced a surge in popularity as Americans sought a socially distant outdoor activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1965, three fathers living on Bainbridge Island, WA created the sport as a new activity for their kids to play. The game has been described as a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. The only equipment players need are paddles (like an oversized ping pong paddle) and perforated plastic balls, like a whiffle ball. Pickleball is typically played in teams of two on a court that is smaller and with a lower net than tennis courts.

According to the Association of Pickleball Professionals' 2023 report, more than 36.5 million people played pickleball from August 2021 to August 2022, a significant increase from 5 million participants in 2021. It is a simple game so beginners can learn how to play easily.

Ed Kallas, Recreation Supervisor 1 for Alameda Recreation and Park Department (ARPD), said in 2022, ARPD’s pickleball mailing list rose from 600 to 700 people as more young people took up the sport. Kallas highlighted the main reason what influenced pickleball’s rise in Alameda.

“It’s a very social sport as the nature of the game and where you stand leads to a lot of fun conversations,” Kallas said. “A lot of people have made many friends by playing pickleball.”

Kallas also said that by playing pickleball, people, especially seniors, can improve their physical fitness, as well as balance and hand-eye coordination. In fact, pickleball classes are the most popular activity at Alameda’s Mastick Senior Center.

Barry Ko, an Alameda-based professional pickleball coach, has been playing the sport for three years. He emphasized the social and exercise benefits that he gets from pickleball.

“I like that it gets me out of the house. I get to do some exercise, be social with my friends, and

meet a lot of new people on the court,” Ko said.

Many communities across the country have replaced tennis courts with pickleball ones or built brand new courts to accommodate the rapidly growing interest. In Alameda, players compete for time on the four Lincoln Park pickleball courts, resurfaced by the city in 2017. According to rules posted at the park, players are limited to 30 minutes, but people often must wait for a free court.

Alameda pickleball player Craig Valdez spoke on issues brought up by the city’s limited number of courts.

“On a weekend, you will have as many as 24 [people] waiting, in fact we had 32, which means you have almost 50 people here,” Valdez said. “We are also competing with the Alameda Park District which has lessons, so, they will take up maybe one or two courts sometimes on the weekend.”

To address this potential problem, ARPD and city officials have begun preliminary talks regarding the building of more courts. Their plan is to eventually build four more courts at Estuary Park. While they acknowledge the city’s plan, both Ko and Valdez hope for more courts, ideally six or eight. Ko thinks four courts will cause similar delays like at Lincoln. However, pickleball players are not the only ones requesting more courts.

Alameda tennis players are lobbying the city for more tennis courts, as discussed at the Jan. 12 Recreation and Park Commission meeting. According to written communication submitted on behalf of the Alameda Tennis Coalition, tennis also experienced a COVID boom with 4.7 times more Americans playing tennis than pickleball last year. While pickleball isn’t necessarily converting tennis players to a new sport, it is engaging more people in quality exercise.

Currently, the Lincoln Park pickleball courts are open from dawn to dusk. The Alameda Pickleball Club is an option for those wanting to play pick-up games with other members of the community. According to their website, they play at the Lincoln Park courts every Wednesday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Also, ARPD offers classes for pickleball beginners. For more information, visit https://alameda.graphtek.com/recreation/pickleball.



The Harbor Bay Club has pickleball and tennis courts included in their membership.